Interview: Batman – Under The Red Hood

Behind the scenes with a very dark knight.

Dark, brooding adventure is nothing new in the world of Batman, but from all indications, his latest animated journey – this summer’s Batman: Under the Red Hood – could be the darkest of all.

“It’s simply the darkest Batman movie we’ve made yet, and that’s including Mask Of The Phantasm and Return Of The Joker,” offers producer Bruce Timm. “This is a really gritty, pretty darkly emotional story, and if it all comes together as I’m expecting it will, it’s going to be something really special.”

Under The Red Hood is adapted by Judd Winick from a story arc presented in the Dark Knight’s comic book adventures, part of which Winick himself had written.  For his part, the writer thought the tale was a natural for animation.

“What I loved best about it is that it had a really amazing beginning and a really strong ending, which pretty much most movies ride on,” Winick notes. “The movie starts with Batman’s failure, which resonates throughout.”

That “failure”, the full details of which he won’t go into, occurred some years ago, and its impact is felt in the present with the arrival of the Red Hood, a costumed vigilante and criminal whose actions reflect what Batman himself would be should he ever decide to step over the line from hero to villain.

“This is absolutely a Batman story,” he emphasises. “It’s about Batman facing his greatest fear, and it’s a fear he was unaware of: failure. All Batman is trying to do is win a war. All he’s trying to do is right wrongs, beginning with the death of his parents and followed by another seminal event in his life, the loss of his partner,  Jason Todd [who replaced Dick Grayson as his sidekick,  Robin].  It was a major mistake in his life, bringing another kid into this war. So for Batman, it seems like one horrible mistake after another.”

No mistake was the “A” talent brought in to provide the film’s voice cast, with Bruce Greenwood taking on the role of Batman and Jensen Ackles portraying the Red Hood – both actors new to animation.

“I didn’t come in with too many preconceptions,” notes Greenwood, who played Captain Christopher Pike in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek.  “I read the script beforehand, and the emotional through line of the story is what I’m trying to connect to. So when the director asks you to give it a certain tone, then you just go for that. But it was interesting to work this way. [Vocal director] Andrea Romano provided the visual – she’d describe everything. So you just kind of close your eyes and she’d set the scene and you could really imagine it very clearly, and then you do your thing.”

“There really wasn’t any heavy acting choices to make,” says Ackles regarding Red Hood. “It pretty much just bounced off the page, and I just tried to do it justice. With working in this medium, once you get clear on all the specific pronunciations and how the tone of the voice needs to rise and fall, it was really about focusing on the more emotional elements of the script, especially in the intense moments and trying to envision the scene with the characters. And envisioning yourself in that scenario. A lot of times if you can do that, if you can put yourself there, I think the voice follows suit.”